Romance? It’s Unnatural

 

Break out the Prozac, uncork the gin, curse Gillette for the invention of the safety razor; the year’s most wretched day returns. Unless you’re recently post-pubescent, 14th February is not a day to be eagerly anticipated. Even Al Capone found better things to do on St Valentine’s Day than mumble between awkward silences in a packed King’s Road restaurant pretending to possess the same impulses and manners he’d channelled his teenaged lusts through.

Probably the one thing worse than being single on Valentine’s Day is – not being single. It becomes a badge of honour: to prove the unprovable, that not only does desire still burn within you, but its best means of expression is through the clichéd palette of ‘romance’: wine, roses, chocolates, gemstones, pointless surprise gestures and love notes going beyond the customary, “Gt milk on way bk pls. x”.

Of course your affection may be overwhelming, your passion undeniable, but doesn’t the ‘romance’ feel forced, somehow unnatural? Maybe that’s because it is. Romantic love is in fact a relatively recent invention, created at the end of the 11th century in the courts of Aquitaine, Provence, Champagne and Burgundy, by poets eager to promote the status of women and gain the patronage of suddenly powerful queens; left nominally in charge as their kings, dukes and liegelords went a-crusading. This not only ignited the mother of all jihads; it began an extraordinary revolution at home.

Handsome young troubadours moved in, singing songs queens wanted to hear; cathartic tales placing women not on the periphery but in the centre, on a pedestal. Herous saved damsels, knights risked all for a lady’s favour… a far cry from the contracted chattel that their arranged marriages had made them.

And apparently in this chastity-belted hot-love environment, where desire reigned but consummation was feared, the elements of romance were forged: the forbidden naughtiness of sex, the symbolism of gifts, the never certain fumbling between lustful urges and ‘chivalrous’ conduct.

Before these ‘courts of live’, marriages were strictly arranged, brokered, acquisitive affairs. But ‘romance’ expressed mutual trust and would eventually let them take part in a radical new method of spousal selection: courtship. By gradually shifting the power of matrimonial choice from dynasties to individuals, courtship changed the face of Western society. However, it was still social policy designed by poets – somewhat slapdash; all metaphors and symbols, nothing concrete. The romantic rules of engagement were never made explicitly, which is why dating remains a minefield of confusing come-ons and back-offs.

So ask yourself: are you still courting? Or is this valentinian ‘romance’ an empty gesture? The fact is, we probably only know we’re right for each other when we turn off the ‘romance’ to find we can still look at each other without feeling nauseous. So this year free yourself, break the shackles, show love your way not their way – cancel that restaurant booking now.


… Oh and if you do, drop me a line. The decent ones are booked solid and the little lady will murder me if there’s no “candlelit” on Valentine’s night.
Marius Brill’s Making Love, A Conspiracy of the Heart (Black Swan £6.99)
is a perfect Valentine present for the disenchanted.via Romance? It’s Unnatural – KensingtonChelseaToday.

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

For the last fifteen years I’ve had a part time career in law enforcement.  First thing this morning I was called to deal with a punch-up.  Even if the perpetrators were two small girls, it still took a brave man to get between them and their advent calendar.

‘Roxana took the sweet I wanted.’

‘You’re such a bloody tell-tale.’

‘She said the B-word! She said the B-word!’

And it’s my fault.  After all, I’ve encouraged their selfishness. I’ve laid on this annual confectionary countdown to the apocalypse of avarice on Greedmas day.  I’ve brought them up as godless sceptics who, without any church-going charitable good-will rationale for the gift giving orgy, have simply concluded that it’s just their yearly entitlement, their present prerogative, their right to receive.

I mean, it’s not their fault.  They can’t be blamed for their own venality.  They’re not responsible.  They’re just kids.  Right?  It’s not as if I’ve told them every year: ‘It’s nicer to give than to receive’… ‘Stuff won’t make you happy’… ‘It’s the thought that counts’… ‘You’ll give Nana a kiss or her present back, NOW.’

No, it’s wrong to blame the innocent receivers for their part in the greed parallax, they’ve just taken what’s been offered; it’s the evil suppliers who are at fault.  Wasn’t it Curry’s and our Flat-Screen worshiping society that was responsible for this summer’s consumeriots? Not the poor disaffected youths who, nevertheless, got banged up for their part.

This Christmas in our wretched economy, the ethics of greed have never seemed more relevant.

The ‘Occupy The-Moral-High-Ground’ camp by St Paul’s protests the greed of the “1%” of the population who possess an astonishingly disproportionate amount of this country’s wealth.

But then here, in the borough with the highest property values in Britain you might ask: Is that us?  Are we that “1%”?

Obviously I’m not because I’m writing for a free newspaper.

And, let’s face it, you’re probably not because you’re reading one.

But we’ve got multimillionaire neighbours keeping our property prices inflated with their fully staffed townhouses reserved for the moment they fancy going shopping. You and I, we’re just the human shield for when the revolution comes.  As the “99%” march on the borough, we’re here to absorb the impact of the first salvos as the “1%” scramble their helicopters.

The occupiers blame ‘corporate greed’ for our economic predicament, but watching my own venal children I start to wonder if it’s really just the “1%” bankers, the suppliers, who are at fault.

Before 2008, who wasn’t tempted to take out a sub-prime style mortgage without totally clear means of repaying?  After all, who imagined property values going anywhere but up? Yes, bankers were/are greedy, yes they encouraged us to live beyond our means, but weren’t we there too? If there’s a responsibility to giving, so is there in the taking.

Sometimes I wish I could just slap sense into my kids.  The fact that they’re down to one present this Christmas might just do it.

Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How To Forget (Doubleday £12.99) is a perfect Christmas present and out now in all good bookshops.

via The Ghost of Christmas Presents – KensingtonChelseaToday.

It’s i Generation

After breakfast we stop outside.  I’m heading east towards town, George west to school.  We hug briefly, father and son, our misty breath enveloping each other’s necks.  Crisp air freezes our ears as we disentangle and pat ourselves; unsure what to do with our hands. We wave feebly and turn.  He’s already plugging his headphones in. He’s here, but he’s gone.

I squint into the glare of a low winter sun, kicking through crumbling leaves that fizz like waves across pebbles.  It’s quiet and early enough to hear rooks cawing through the plane trees and to feel the cold ache in my temples.  I sense that autumnal, first frostiness, thrill to be alive in a world unbounded beneath an infinite sky.

George plods away, head down, eyes to phone screen, thumbs dancing:

‘Yo’

‘Hey G-ster. U C FiFi ystrday?’

‘Fiiiiiiiit’

A stripped back steady drum beat syncopates his steps. Guitar and bass fill the space between his ears.

A paternal instinct stirs in me.  I stride back, determined to show him this world he’s missing strapped in to the finite void of his phone screen and the limited horizons of other’s apps and music.

He’s alone but not alone.  You can’t move in this Borough without nearly smacking into the oblivious, marching, road-death-defying, plugged-in; or blue-toothed monologists; or those luddites who still hold phones to ears.  But to whose iTune are they all marching?

Illustration: Don Grant

When Apple supremo Steve Jobs died last month, his very own Generation-i tried to crystallize his wisdom with a global re-tweet, an epitaph for his digital tombstone; words from an address he gave to Stanford University:  ‘Stay foolish.  Stay hungry.’

As if either true foolishness or hunger were a choice; as if anybody who attended Stanford, or could afford Jobs’ products, or even access tweets, could have ever known real hunger beyond day two of the Dukan Diet.

Alright, maybe Jobs was trying to say, “Keep thinking ‘out of the box’ and being ambitious”.  But in reducing to sound bite, in much the same way the iPod mp3 technology reduced the infinite variation of analogue sound to a series of discrete compressed micro tones, something may have got lost in summarisation.

And then, perhaps Jobs really was exhorting his acolytes: be foolish and hungry – never considered, never satisfied.  After all, if you’re peddling equipment which only survives through constant upgrading when previous versions work just as well, what you need is a customer base who are both:  Hungry enough to always want the ‘next thing’, foolish enough to never ask, ‘why?’

Those four words are the tragedy of the shut-off Generation-i, not the triumph.

Desperate to share this natural world with George, I catch him and try to explain.

He looks around. ‘Reality?’ he shrugs, ‘yeah.  Nice. This morning, not my choice.’

And I know he’s right.  We can choose the nature of our journeys now, just as we would our destinations and, this morning, I’m happy: he’s not foolish, he’s not hungry.

via IT’S I GENERATION – KensingtonChelseaToday

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I’m a novelist, journalist and film maker interested in Neuroscience, Conjuring, Hustles, Deception, Illusion, Delusion and the nature of Love.

This is how the TLS summed me up:

Puns, gags, witty observations, surreal flights, there is a laugh of some sort in every line… A quip for Brill is the Cleopatra for which he will give up the world and consider it well lost.

And that’s a fair cop… which is more than you’ll find in The Wire.

Now, with the publication of my second novel How To Forget this is a pretty exciting time. What’s below may not be my life, but it’s a blog of events and tangential thoughts that grind the optics behind my own peculiar views.

Marius Brill

Halloween: The Rules

I stand with my dead son in the hall.  He’s giving me a strange look.  But, with one eye gouged out and glistening nerves dangling from the dark prosthetic hole, strange looks is about all he can give me.

‘No,’ I say firmly, ‘you’re just too big now.’

His hunchback visibly slumps. ‘But Pete and Max and all the others are…’

‘You’re fifteen now, bigger than most adults and if a hoard of kids your size came knocking on my door, I’d be terrified.’

‘You’re supposed to be,’ George retorts sulkily, ‘that’s the point.’Illustration by Don Grant

Is it?  I’m really not sure.  Trouble is, like fast-food, Mother’s Day or chronic obesity, we seem to adopt American traditions without a thorough understanding of the rules.

Wimpy, the great British precursor to MacDonalds, believed they were providing fast-food by making sure their waitresses served tables quickly.  The idea of buying straight from a counter was just too uncivilised to contemplate.

And Mother’s Day, devoid of any established ceremony, perpetually feels like an awkward obligation to bestow potted plants.  We can’t even do US-style corpulence without feeling guilty and trying to negate it with self-effacing jokes whereas Americans seem to happily get through life never mentioning the elephant, or elephants, in the room.

If we had any flair for homemade festivities, October could have been the month dominated, not by its last day but by, say, national Conker Day, or a Festival of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness or a celebration of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. We could dress up with eye patches and demand kisses from hardy sailors rather than sweets from strangers.

Indeed, this year’s baying for the blood of Rebekah Brookes led me to think that we might return to more traditional British style Halloween Witch hunting.  But then along came those meddling kids looting London during their recessionary Costa curtailed summer holidays and it brought home all the fears that householders may experience when opening the door to masked teenagers intent on booty.

My own first ‘Trick or Treat’ was forty years ago. Six years old and invited to observe this foreign ritual by my friend Eugene who lived in a Kensington mansion block popular with American families. Using some old pillow cases to unwittingly dress up like a couple of lynch-happy white supremacists we glided around a carefully organised route of flats inside the block.  At each door there was a ‘treat’ but, not understanding the rules of this game, I was too terrified to enjoy it. I understood the basics of the verbal contract we were making and worried about what would happen if we actually had to ‘trick’ someone. Before we had left, Eugene’s ‘mom’ had told me that ‘back home’ a trick would be to rub soap on their windows.

We were seven stories up.

So nowadays, as soon as the supermarkets pack the barbecues away, their shelves begin to buckle with halloweenia.  By the night of October 31st  the streets buzz with ghouls and waddling pumpkins not completely sure what they’re doing, or why.

You might ask why do we need rules? Why not just enjoy it? But maybe that’s why these events seem so alien.  Far too much freedom, no room for faux pas.  If you want to make something British – give it rules. Not laws, to be policed by a third party, far too totalitarian, but rules that mean we can all police each other’s compliance and be outraged by, and justify exclusion of, anybody who doesn’t follow them.  Watch Downton Abbey and you’re experiencing that distant comfort afforded by everyone knowing their place and keeping to it -not enforced by the state but by social contract.

So to help Halloween become a less foreign event these are six basic rules I’ve worked out from years trudging around with my own children:

1)      No flats – you can’t get sweets from an entryphone.

2)      They’re ‘sweets’ not ‘candy’.

3)      Only houses that place a pumpkin in the window.

4)      Avoid all celebrities’ houses And obviously whatever day it is, never let your daughter knock on Michael Winner’s door… he’s a married man now.

5)     Never ever actually do a ‘trick’; whatever you’ve threatened.

6)     Always be cuter than you are scary.  Remember it’s an American tradition.  Think Disney and Barbie not Manson and waterboarding; it’s like the movies, all popcorn and happy endings and any horror more kitsch than kitchen knife. It’s little kids inappropriately dressed as vampirella or pumpkin outfits, being a bit sweet when they come to your door.  Not the terror of being mugged on your own doorstep. If your kid is big enough to scare someone without the make-up they’re too big for trick or treat.

‘George,’ I say, ‘If you’re big enough to cause actual bodily harm you’re too big to be in a gang beating at people’s doors.  Them’s the rules.’

He looks at the flat door longingly, despairing that I may well have a lecture attached to my homily.

‘But, happily,’ I say, ‘it also means you’re big enough to be looking after the littler ones as they haunt the streets.  And I assure you, cutie booty is far bigger.’

He glances back at his little vampire sisters, blood streaming from the corners of their mouths, patiently waiting for me to take them out.  With a grunt he beckons them and nods towards the door.

As the monsters leave I settle down.  For once I’m going to enjoy Halloween.

 

A version of this article appears here in


‘Limits’ Jorge Luis Borges

Borges ‘Limits’ is an immensely moving poem encapsulating mortality and memory. The idea that any beautiful moment or place or person, any wonderful experience is fleeting and you may never see it again, and it will be that way for the rest of your life – only a memory and, even that, will fade to nothingness.

Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time
Without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone

Who fixes in advance omnipotent laws,
Sets up a secret and unwavering scale
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
Woven into the texture of this life.

If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?

Through the dawning window night withdraws
And among the stacked books which throw
Irregular shadows on the dim table,
There must be one which I will never read.

There is in the South more than one worn gate,
With its cement urns and planted cactus,
Which is already forbidden to my entry,
Inaccessible, as in a lithograph.

There is a door you have closed forever
And some mirror is expecting you in vain;
To you the crossroads seem wide open,
Yet watching you, four-faced, is a Janus.

There is among all your memories one
Which has now been lost beyond recall.
You will not be seen going down to that fountain
Neither by white sun nor by yellow moon.

You will never recapture what the Persian
Said in his language woven with birds and roses,
When, in the sunset, before the light disperses,
You wish to give words to unforgettable things.

And the steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
All that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
Scourged by the Romans with fire and salt.

At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
Murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
They are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
Space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.

Jorge Luis Borges

And then, knowing Borges was blind, is this poem so filled with moving visual texture even more poignant?

Ladies who Launch

Thank you to everyone who attended the launch of How To Forget at Daunt’s Bookshop on the Fulham Road last Wednesday.  It was a night of old friendships reacquainted, ink and magic – a huge number of you turned up and depleted a very large stack of books.  Those who forgot to come missed my slightly odd book-reading which, in deference to the magic in the book, I performed through the medium of someone else’s mind, read verbatim from a page which was never in the book she read.

The magicians Laura London and Russell Levinson performed incredible feats of prestidigitation and since some of Laura’s magic involved balls of fire, Daunts showed admirable restraint in not pointing out the obvious dangers to their combustible stock.

I had a marvelous time, I hope everybody who came did, and as a little taste for those who didn’t – witness the mandatory awkward proxemics of this trade paper/Publisher’s Weekly style photo from the do featuring my brilliant editor Jane Lawson, Laura London and me… I’ll leave it up to you to decide who’s who.

Meanwhile… a report from the local newspaper sounds rather familiar:

Magic at Daunts

Thursday, 6th October 2011

Magic was the theme at Daunts Bookshop on the Fulham Road as partygoers gathered to celebrate the launch of Chelsea author Marius Brill’s new novel How To Forget – A book of Laughter and Regretting.

To honour the book’s themes of conjurers and con artists, burlesque magician Laura London, from ITV1’s ‘Penn and Teller’s Fool Us’, and local card expert Russell Levinson performed miracles of magic for the guests.  Even though Laura had packs of cards bursting into flames just inches from the bookshop’s highly flammable stock, manager Max Porter appeared amazed but, ironically, un-daunted.

Marius Brill welcomed guests including ‘Chancer’ actress Lynsey Baxter and a melange of notable writers and artists (of all varieties).

To promote this literary thriller about illusions and the mind, Brill turned his hand to magic to by performing a reading from How to Forget.  He chose not to read from its pages but from a spectator’s mind who had been asked to memorise any passage they liked.  He then revealed that the page his volunteer had read had been torn out of the book before she had even opened it. We’re still trying to work out how he did that.

“You hang about with magicians long enough and some of the pixie dust rubs off,” Brill said.  “Along with the rip-roaring adventure, readers will discover the secrets behind many of the world’s greatest magical ideas.”How To Forget by Marius Brill, published by Doubleday, is for sale at Daunts and all major bookshops now. £12.99.

via Magic at Daunts – KensingtonChelseaToday.

“Page-turning Tension”

Marius Brill, How to Forget (2011) from David Hebblethwaite’s blog about books (et al)

Magician Peter Ruchio was humiliated, and his career derailed, by a prank played by Titus Black at the latter’s eighth birthday party; fifteen years later, Black has grown up to be a famous illusionist (though he is not above committing murder to preserve his secrets), whilst Peter is performing tricks in restaurants and old people’s homes. A chance encounter with Kate Minola, a grifter on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, gives Peter the opportunity to take his revenge on Black; but his experiences ultimately lead  Peter to seek the help of Dr Chris Tavasligh, a neuroscientist working on a way to ‘reboot’ the human brain, thereby erasing all memories. That was three years ago, and Tavasligh subsequently disappeared; the book in our hands purports to be the scientist’s collected papers.

As befits a novel about a magician, How to Forget is full of misdirection; one is never quite sure which way the characters will turn, who can be trusted – and there’s a sense at the end that the real story is not the one we thought it was (the allusions to The Taming of the Shrew in the protagonists’ names serve, as far as I can tell, to highlight the idea of a story within a story). Not everything in the book works so well: the larger-than-life tone and occasional comic interludes tend to rub against the more serious episodes, rather than working with them; and it seems to me that Brill’s material on memory doesn’t quite integrate successfully with the plot. Better is the author’s comparison of Peter’s and Kate’s professions, which leads them to face up to some difficult questions; and the caper narrative has all the page-turning tension and momentum one could wish.

via Book notes: Moran, Harstad, Brill « Follow the Thread.

Rise of the Fab Dad

Borough Life “Fab Dad”

Monday, 5th September 2011  

Whoever coined the phrase ‘Yummy Mummies’ could only have been at the school-gates for the afternoon pick-up. In the cold light of the eight a.m. drop they look just about credible – but far from edible. It’s the new term, your streets are jammed with new school-run experimenters, 4x4s seeking out the paths of least jam resistance.

J.J. grips my hand tightly as we enter the playground. “It’s like the graveyard,” she whispers, eyes wide.“‘Like a graveyard’” I correct her.“No, no, the graveyard, Daddy, in ‘The Dead Will Wake’”. Whatever the rights, or wrongs, of allowing a 6-year-old to watch a zombie DVD just to buy some quality time with the Sundays, it’s certainly enriched her understanding of some difficult concepts of mortality. “Easter,” she told her big sister, “is the time when Jesus died and became a zombie”.

Her new, slightly morbid, awareness of ‘Stranger Danger’ issues has also improved her observational skills. The playground mothers do indeed resemble that graveyard scene; having dug themselves out of their tombstones, the dead lurch en masse empty-eyed with corrugated cardboard complexions, their rear-view mirror make-up applied by Jackson Pollock, stumbling forward as the children run away screaming into the safety of their classrooms.

I know that by three-thirty the mums will be svelte long-legged gazelles, in tight jeans and sunglasses prancing gracefully across the playground savannah but, in the morning drop zone of the asphalt jungle, the real competition is all about who is – oh good grief, if I really have to give it a media moniker, American style, rhyming tag – who is the ‘Fab Dad’?

Is it Zoe’s dad, smirking in the hopscotch area? Works in a garage in a blue boilersuit but drives a Mercedes. He pulls in his gut tighter than a Stradivarius because, no matter what they say, you really can get fitter than a Kwikfit fitter.

Matilda arrives on her dad’s Harley. He’s clad in full leathers and struts through the zombie mums like the Fonz, flashing his cheeky twenty grand ultra-brite dental array at any takers.

Where the morning mums sag, as if everything gets dropped with the kids, the ‘Fab Dads’ strut and preen in powerhouse displays of solvency and genial fatherhood. Saturdays in the park are for the hard core, but the morning drop-off is a window of opportunity for competitive dads to show off their air-parenting skills, parade their trophy kids and demonstrate their devotion to family life – for twenty whole minutes.

I’m not sure any of us know why we’re doing it. The Fab Dad contest resembles our pre-family mating displays but holds none of the frisson of further action. These things rarely turn into torrid affairs. Perhaps you can take the boy out of the game but you can’t take the game out of the boy. It may be less about schwing and more about kerching, but each morning, there we are again, gladiators competing to be Pater Maximus.

Marius Brill

via Borough Life “Fab Dad” – KensingtonChelseaToday.

“Intelligent and witty, a terrific page-turner”

5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and witty, a terrific page-turner

21 July 2011

By Mark Webb “marcos_cu” (TOP 500 REVIEWER)

You’ve got to stay alert while reading How to Forget; ironically, you also need a good memory, because there’s a multitude of twists and turns, sudden changes of direction, shifting identities and aliases as you follow the clever, crude and utterly compelling tale of poor Peter, aka Mr Magicov, entertainer to the elderly, whose life was ruined in a disastrous and hilarious child molestation case, orchestrated by the monstrous Titus, now a celebrity illusionist in the Derren Brown mould.

The story follows Peter’s struggles to forget his agonising past and make a new life, a struggle pushed to dizzy new heights (and very much against Peter’s will), by self-obsessed con-artist Kate, on the run from her own nemesis, the obsessive and sociopathically vicious FBI Agent Brown. I don’t think it gives too much away to say the tale ends with a delicious double twist in which practically everyone gets their just deserts.

The ‘academic’ inserts seemed a tad intrusive, interrupting, as they did, an otherwise fast-moving, page-turning narrative. I feel they would have worked better if they could have been somehow woven into the story, rather than as ever-more distracting `case-notes’. I did find myself skimming them a little, as the plot became ever more compelling.

How to Forget is a terrific story with brilliantly worked characters and an intelligent, fast-moving plot. One of the best novels I’ve read this year and very highly recommended indeed.

via How to Forget: Amazon.co.uk: Marius Brill: Books.